Revolutionary Spain

by Karl Marx 1854

First Published: in New-York Daily Tribune, October 30, 1854.

Written between November 14 and 21,1854

Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 13 (pp.654-659), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980

... banner of revolution, the army of Ballesteros, which, since the capitulation of his chief [was] still concentrated at Priego, 10 leagues north of Malaga. On this his second Cadiz expedition[458] he[a] was made prisoner by one of General Molitor's corps, surrendered to the apostolical band, and sent to Madrid there to be executed, on the 7th November, four days before Ferdinand's return to the capital.

"Not by his fault fell Riego but by the treason of a vile Bourbon."

When Ferdinand on his arrival at Madrid was waited upon and congratulated by the officers of the bands of the Foi[459] they having withdrawn, he exclaimed in the midst of his court: "It is the same dogs but with different collars".

The number of friars who in 1822 had mustered 16,310, amounted in 1830 to 61,727, being an increase of 45,417[b] in the course of 8 years. From the Madrid Gaceta we see that in the single month from the 24th August to the 24th September 1824, 1,200 persons were shot, hanged, and quartered, and then the barbarous decree against Comuneros[460], Freemasons, etc., had not yet been divulgated[c]. The University of Sevilla was closed for years, but in its stead a governmental school of bullfighting was established.

Frederick the Great, conversing with his War Minister, asked him, which country in Europe he thought most difficult to ruin? Perceiving the minister to be rather embarrassed, he answered for him:

"It is Spain: as its own government has for many years endeavoured to ruin it—but all in vain."[d]

Frederick the Great seems to have prognosticated the reign of Ferdinand VII.

The failure of the Revolution of 1820-1823 is easily accounted for. It was a middle class revolution and, more especially, a town revolution, while the country, ignorant, lazy, wedded to the pompous ceremonies of the church, remained passive observers of the party strife they did hardly understand. In the few provinces where they exceptionally took an active share in the struggle, it was rather on the side of the counter-revolution,—a fact not to be wondered at in Spain, "that storehouse of ancient customs, that repository of all, elsewhere forgotten and past by", a country where, during the war of independence peasants were seen using spurs taken from the armoury of the Alhambra and armed with halberds and pikes of curious and ancient workmanship, which had been wielded in the wars of the 15th century. Besides it was a feature peculiar to Spain that every peasant who had a noble ensign cut in stone over the door of his miserable cabin, considered himself a nobleman and that thus the country people, generally, if poor and plundered, did never groan under that consciousness of abject degradation which exasperated them in the rest of feudal Europe. That the revolutionary party did not know how to link the interests of the peasantry to the town movement, is avowed by two men, both of whom acted a principal part in the Revolution, by General Morillo and by San Miguel. Morillo, who cannot be suspected of revolutionary sympathies, wrote from Galicia to the Duke of Angoulême:

"If the Cortes had sanctioned the bill on the seignorial rights, and thus despoiled the grandees of their properties in favour of the multitude, Your Highness would have encountered numerous, patriotic and formidable armies, which would have organized themselves, as they did in France, under similar circumstances".

On the other hand San Miguel (see his Civil War of Spain, Madrid. 1836) tells us:

"The greatest error of the liberals consisted in their not considering that by far the majority of the nation were indifferent or hostile to the new laws. The numerous decrees published by the Cortes with a view to ameliorating the material condition of the people, were unable to produce so immediate results as were required by the circumstances. Neither the abolition of half the tithes, nor the sale of the monastic estates, contributed to ameliorating the material condition of the lower agricultural classes. The last measure, on the contrary, by throwing the land out of the hands of the indulgent monks into those of calculating capitalists, impaired the position of the old farmers by causing higher rents to be imposed upon them, so that the superstition of this numerous class, already wounded by the alienation of sanctified patrimony, became exaggerated by the suggestions of material interests".

The revolutionary town population thus estranged from the mass of the nation, were therefore forced, in their struggle with the Grandees, the rural clergy, the monastic power, and the crown which represented all these antiquated elements of society, to depend altogether on the army and its chiefs. The very position thus usurped by the army in the revolutionary camp, together with its isolation from the masses, made it an instrument dangerous for the hands that wielded it, but inoffensive to the enemy it was to strike. Finally, the upper rank of the middle-class, the so-called Moderados, became soon lukewarm and then traitors to the Cause of the Revolution, lulling themselves, as they did, into the hope of getting their reign established by means of a French intervention and thus enjoying the fruits of a new society without painstaking and without admitting the plebeians to participate in them.

The positive result of the Revolution of 1820-1823 was not limited to the great fermentation which expanded the minds and renewed the character of some large classes of the nation. The second restoration[461], in which the antiquated elements of society assumed such shapes as to become insupportable to, and incompatible with the national existence of Spain, was itself a product of the Revolution. Its principal work was to whet the antagonism to such a point as to make all compromises impossible and a war to the knife inevitable. According to Lord Liverpool himself, there never was an extensive political change attended with less violence or bloodshed than the Spanish Revolution during 1820-1823[e]. When we behold, therefore, the civil war of 1833-1843[462] exterminating the antiquated elements of Spanish society[f], with fire and sword and disgracing itself by acts of cannibalism, we must not attribute the savage inexorableness of that epoch to the peculiar character of the Spanish race, but to the same force of circumstances that imposed upon France the reign of terrorism. While the French centralised and, therefore, abbreviated the reign of terrorism, the Spaniards, true to their traditions, decentralised and, consequently, procrastinated it. Conforming to Spanish tradition, the revolutionary party was not likely to prove victorious by subverting the throne. With them, to be successful, the Revolution itself needed to appear as a competitor for the throne. The struggle of the two societies ought to assume the form of a struggle of opposite dynastic interests. The Spain of the 19th century did her revolution with ease; when she was allowed to give it the form of the civil wars of the XIVth century. It was Ferdinand the Seventh who gave to the Revolution a royal name that of Isabella, while he leagued to the counter-revolution the Don Quixote of the Auto-da-fé, Don Carlos. Ferdinand VII proved true to his character to the [end][g]. If, during his whole life, he had cheated the liberals by false promises, should he not indulge the sport [when ch]eating the serviles on his death-bed?[463] As to religious matters, he had always been a sceptic. He was unable to [con]vince himself that any one even the Holy Ghost should be so silly as to speak the truth.



[a] Riego.—Ed.

[b] Here the words "professional beggars" are crossed out in the manuscript.—Ed.

[c] Examen critique des la révolutions d'Espagne. The decree mentioned by Marx was adopted on October 12, 1824.—Ed.

[d] John Bramsen, Remark of the North of Spain, p. 52.—Ed.

[e] Lord Liverpool's speech in the House of Lords on February 4, 1823. Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, new series [2], Vol. 8, London, 1823, pp. 29-34.—Ed.

[f] The words "the feudal and monastic power" are crossed out here.—Ed. [g] Here and below the manuscript is damaged. The words in square brackets are restored by the editors.—Ed.

[457] As can be judged from Marx's Notebook, he wrote and mailed to New York three articles more of the Revolutionary Spain series which were entered in the Notebook as "Dienstag. 14. November. Spain 1820-Juli 1822"; "Dienstag. 21. November. Spain. [illegible] Intervention"; "Freitag. 8. December. Spain—1833". None of the articles were printed in the newspaper; their manuscripts have not been discovered. The rough draft published in this volume is apparently part of the article mailed on November 21, 1854. The manuscript contains many deletions only some of which are reproduced in this publication.

[458] By the second Cadiz expedition Marx means Riego's campaign in 1823. In August 1823 Riego arrived in Malaga from Cadiz besieged by the French and tried to break through to Catalonia where General Mina was then engaged in fierce fighting with the interventionists. Riego's attempt to gain support from Ballesteros' army, which had ceased resistance, failed, and at the head of a small detachment he marched in the direction of Cartagena. At Jerez his detachment was defeated; on September 15, Riego was captured. The first Cadiz expedition was Riego's campaign of 1820, which was the starting point of the revolution.

[459] Reference to the army of faith—the name of detachments formed by the Catholic absolutist group. In 1822 these detachments staged a mutiny against the revolutionary government in Catalonia, Navarre and Biscay; in 1823 they fought on the side of the French interventionists.

[460] Comuneros—members of a secret political association, the Confederation of the Spanish comuneros, founded during the 1820-23 bourgeois revolution. The comuneros voiced the interests of the most democratic sections of the urban population: artisans, workers, sections of intellectuals and officers and the petty bourgeoisie. They numbered seventy thousand and most resolutely opposed the counter-revolution. After the suppression of the revolution the comuneros were severely persecuted and ceased their activities.

[461] The reference is to the restoration in Spain of the absolutist regime of Ferdinand VII as a result of suppression of the 1820-23 revolution. The first restoration of Ferdinand - VII was in 1814, after Napoleon's defeat.

[462] The reference is to the Carlist war of 1833-40 and the bourgeois revolution in Spain (1834-43). See also notes 224↓, 227↓.

[463] In September 1832, Ferdinand VII, then gravely ill, annulled his decree of 1830, by which his daughter Isabella, an infant at the time, was made heiress to the throne; when he recovered Ferdinand reinstated her, thus disappointing the hopes of the serviles (see Note 323↓) who supported his brother Don Carlos. [323]
Serviles—the name given to a reactionary clerico-absolutist group during the first bourgeois revolution in Spain (1808-14); later the serviles formed the Court camarilla of Ferdinand VII, and during the last years of his life pinned their hopes on his brother Don Carlos.
Liberales, who expressed the interests of the bourgeoisie and liberal nobility, put forward as their programme the 1812 Constitution.
Americanos—the name given to small group in the Cortes representing the Spaniards living in the Spanish colonies in Latin America. They played no significant role. [324] The Council of Trent was a - general council held by the Catholic Church in Tridentum (Trient) and Bologna from 1545 to 1563. It condemned Protestantism and adopted a number of decisions concerning the Catholic Church; in particular, it proclaimed the Pope's authority over the councils and strengthened the power of bishops. The main result of the Council of Trent was the persecution of heretics and free-thinkers, and intensification of Church censorship. From 1559 the Index librorum prohibitorum was published regularly and in 1571 the Congregation of the Index (an office in Vatican dealing with censorship) was set up; it remained till 1917.

[327] The decree of March 6, 1820 and the decrees mentioned by Marx below were published in Miraflores, Essais historiques et critiques pour servir à l'histoire d'Espagne, de 1820 h 1823, t. I, Paris, 1836, pp. 257, 261-62. It is probable that Marx's main source in describing these events were: Henry Davis, The War of Ormuzd and Ahriman in the Nineteenth Century, Baltimore, 1852; La España. Bajo el Poder Arbitrario de la congregacion Apostólica o Apuntes Documentados para la Historia de este Pais desde 1820 a 1832. Second edition, Paris, 1833 and M. de Chateaubriand, Congrès de Vérone. Guerre d'Espagne. Negociations. Colonies espagnoles, Brussels, 1838, t. 1, excerpts from which he made in October 1854.





The Central Junta failed in the defense of their country, because they failed in their revolutionary mission. Conscious of their own weakness, of the unstable tenor of their power, and of their extreme unpopularity, how could they have attempted to answer the rivalries, jealousies, and overbearing pretensions of their generals common to all revolutionary epochs, but by unworthy tricks and petty intrigues? Kept, as they were, in constant fear and suspicion of their own military chiefs, we may give full credit to Wellington when writing to his brother, the Marquis of Wellesley, on September 1, 1809:

“I am much afraid, from what I have seen of the proceedings of the Central Junta, that in the distribution of their forces, they did not consider military defense and military operations so much as they do political intrigue and the attainment of trifling political objects.”

In revolutionary times, when all ties of subordination are loosened, military discipline can only be restored by civil discipline sternly weighing upon the generals. As the Central Junta, from its incongruous complexion, never succeeded in controlling the generals, the generals always failed in controlling the soldiers, and to the end of the war the Spanish army never reached an average degree of discipline and subordination. This insubordination was kept up by the want of food, clothing, and all the other material requisites of an army — for the morale of an army, as Napoleon called it, depends altogether on its material condition. The Central Junta was unable regularly to provide for the army, because the poor poet Quintana’s manifestoes would not do in this instance, and to add coercion to their decrees they must have recurred to the same revolutionary measures which they had condemned in the provinces. Even the general enlistment without respect to privilege and exemptions, and the facility granted to all Spaniards to obtain every grade in the army, was the work of the provincial juntas, and not of the Central Junta. If the defeats of the Spanish armies were thus produced by the counter-revolutionary incapacities of the Central Junta, these disasters in their turn still more depressed that Government, and by making it the object of popular contempt and suspicion, increased its dependence upon presumptuous but incapable military chiefs.

The Spanish standing army, if everywhere defeated, nevertheless presented itself at all points. More than twenty times dispersed, it was always ready again to show front to the enemy, and frequently reappeared with increased strength after a defeat. It was of no use to beat them, because, quick to flee, their loss in men was generally small, and as to the loss of the field, they did not care about it. Retiring disorderly to the sierras, they were sure to reassemble and reappear when least expected, strengthened by new reinforcements, and able, if not to resist the French armies, at least to keep them in continual movement, and to oblige them to scatter their forces. More fortunate than the Russians, they did not even need to die in order to rise from the dead.

The disastrous battle at Ocaña, November 19, 1809, was the last great pitched battle which the Spaniards fought; from that time they confined themselves to guerrilla warfare. The mere fact of the abandonment of regular warfare proves the disappearance of the national before the local centers of Government. When the disasters of the standing army became regular, the rising of the guerrillas became general, and the body of the people, hardly thinking of the national defeats, exulted in the local successes of their heroes. In this point at least the Central Junta shared the popular delusion. Fuller accounts were given in the Gaceta of an affair of guerrillas than of the battle of Ocaña.

As Don Quixote had protested with his lance against gunpowder, so the guerrillas protested against Napoleon, only with different success.

“These guerrillas,” says the Austrian Military journal (Vol. I, 1821), “carried their basis in themselves, as it were, and every operation against them terminated in the disappearance of its object.”

There are three periods to be distinguished in the history of the guerrilla warfare. In the first period the population of whole provinces took up arms and made a partisan warfare, as in Galicia and Asturias. In the second period, guerrilla bands formed of the wrecks of the Spanish armies, of Spanish deserters from the French armies, of smugglers, etc., carried on the war as their own cause, independently of all foreign influence and agreeably to their immediate interest. Fortunate events and circumstances frequently brought whole districts under their colors. As long as the guerrillas were thus constituted, they made no formidable appearance as a body, but were nevertheless extremely dangerous to the French. They formed the basis of an actual armament of the people. As soon as an opportunity for a capture offered itself, or a combined enterprise was meditated, the most active and daring among the people came out and joined the guerrillas. They rushed with the utmost rapidity upon their booty, or placed themselves in order of battle, according to the object of their undertaking. It was not uncommon to see them standing out a whole day in sight of a vigilant enemy, in order to intercept a carrier or to capture supplies. It was in this way that the younger Mina captured the Viceroy of Navarra, appointed by Joseph Bonaparte, and that Julian made a prisoner of the Commandant of Ciudad Rodrigo. As soon as the enterprise was completed, everybody went his own way, and armed men were seen scattering in all directions; but the associated peasants quietly returned to their common occupation without “as much as their absence having been noticed.” Thus the communication on all the roads was closed. Thousands of enemies were on the spot, though not one could be discovered. No courier could be dispatched without being taken; no supplies could set out without being intercepted; in short, no movement could be effected without being observed by a hundred eyes. At the same time, there existed no means of striking at the root of a combination of this kind. The French were obliged to be constantly armed against an enemy who, continually flying, always reappeared, and was everywhere without being actually seen, the mountains serving as so many curtains.

“It was,” says the Abbé de Pradt, “neither battles nor engagements which exhausted the French forces, but the incessant molestations of an invisible enemy, who, if pursued, became lost among the people, out of which he reappeared immediately afterward with renewed strength. The lion in the fable tormented to death by a gnat gives a true picture of the French army.”

In their third period, the guerrillas aped the regularity of the standing army, swelled their corps to the number of from 3,000 to 6,000 men, ceased to be the concern of whole districts, and fell into the hands of a few leaders, who made such use of them as best suited their own purposes. This change in the system of the guerrillas gave the French, in their contests with them, considerable advantage. Rendered incapable by their great numbers to conceal themselves, and to suddenly disappear without being forced into battle, as they had formerly done, the guerrilleros were now frequently overtaken, defeated, dispersed, and disabled for a length of time from offering any further molestation.

By comparing the three periods of guerrilla warfare with the political history of Spain, it is found that they represent the respective degrees into which the counter-revolutionary spirit of the Government had succeeded in cooling the spirit of the people. Beginning with the rise of whole populations, the partisan war was next carried on by guerrilla bands, of which whole districts formed the reserve and terminated in corps francs continually on the point of dwindling into banditti, or sinking down to the level of standing regiments.

Estrangement from the Supreme Government, relaxed discipline, continual disasters, constant formation, decomposition, and recomposition during six years of the cadrez must have necessarily stamped upon the body of the Spanish army the character of praetorianism, making them equally ready to become the tools or the scourges of their chiefs. The generals themselves had necessarily participated in, quarrelled with, or conspired against the Central Government, and always thrown the weight of their sword into the political balance. Thus Cuesta, who afterwards seemed to win the confidence of the Central Junta at the same rate that he lost the battles of the country, had begun by conspiring with the Consejo Real and by arresting the Leonese deputies to the Central Junta. General Morla himself, a member of the Central Junta, went over into the Bonapartist camp, after he had surrendered Madrid to the French. The coxcombical Marquis de las Romerias, also a member of the Junta, conspired with the vainglorious Francisco Palafox, the wretched Montijo, and the turbulent Junta of Seville against it. The Generals Castaños, Blake, La Bisbal (an O'Donnell) figured and intrigued successively at the times of the Cortes as regents, and the Captain-General of Valencia, Don Javier Elío, surrendered Spain finally to the mercies of Ferdinand VII. The praetorian element was certainly more developed with the generals than with their troops.

On the other hand, the army and guerrilleros — which received during the war part of their chiefs, like Porlier, Lacy, Eroles and Villacampa, from the ranks of distinguished officers of the line, while the line in its turn afterward received guerrilla chiefs, like Mina, Empecinado, etc. — were the most revolutionized portion of Spanish society, recruited as they were from all ranks, including the whole of the fiery, aspiring and patriotic youth, inaccessible to the soporific influence of the Central Government; emancipated from the shackles of the ancient regime; part of them, like Riego, returning after some years’ captivity in France. We are, then, not to be surprised at the influence exercised by the Spanish army in subsequent commotions; neither when taking the revolutionary initiative, nor when spoiling the revolution by praetorianism.

As to the guerrillas, it is evident that, having for some years figured upon the theater of sanguinary contests, taken to roving habits, freely indulged all their passions of hatred, revenge, and love of plunder, they must, in times of peace, form a most dangerous mob, always ready at a nod, in the name of any party or principle, to step forward for him who is able to give them good pay or to afford them a pretext for plundering excursions.



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